Iris a perfect choice for smaller space

"I had to reduce the inventory and bring only a sampling. Now, in this smaller garden, each plant holds much more meaning."

We often hear the phrase ‘less is more’. Well, this has turned out to be the case with my East Trail garden. The smaller space didn’t have room to accommodate nearly as many plants as I had in my previous garden, so I had to reduce the inventory and bring only a sampling. Now, in this smaller garden, each plant holds much more meaning.

I had quite a selection of tall bearded Iris scattered throughout my previous landscape which made it difficult to decide which one to bring. Ultimately, I think I chose wisely. There were no blooms after transplant last year but this spring I have been rewarded with the stunning white flowers of “Immortality”, a gift from our Kootenay Iris aficionado, Dorothy Beetstra. As it is my only iris at the moment, I appreciate it more than ever!

Tall bearded irises are the stars of the iris world and the most common of all iris groups. They are defined by a height of 27 inches and up with a fuzzy protrusion on the falls or lower petal, called a beard. There are many, many colours and bloom-times vary through May and June depending on the variety. It seems the lighter ones bloom first and the darker ones follow. The pure white ‘Immortality’ is the first to bloom..

Most bearded irises are hardy to Zone 3 and do best when planted in dry soil with their rhizomes (resembling small elongated potatoes with roots) just above the surface where they can bask in the full sun. Diseases are very likely to occur if the location is shaded or the soil is wet and poorly drained. Iris appreciate a feed of bonemeal scratched into their soil every spring but we are cautioned to avoid high nitrogen content as it will cause lush growth and render the plant more susceptible to bacterial soft rot.

All iris are susceptible to soft rot – characterized by soft, rotting rhizomes – which can also occur when the rhizomes are accidentally cut open by careless digging, or attacked by the iris borer.

If this happens, dig out the infected patch and discard them in the garbage; then plant the remaining rhizomes in a different spot.

Despite these vulnerabilities, irises are generally a hardy breed and spread quickly, requiring little maintenance. After blooming, remove the flower stalks cleanly at the junction with the rhizome. It is important not to cut the foliage back until the end of the growing season. This will allow plants to store food for the next season.

A valuable tip for proper planting is to dig two trenches with a ridge in the middle. Set the rhizome on the ridge, spread the roots into the trenches and back fill with dirt. I’ve used this method and it makes planting very easy!

Overgrown clumps of iris lose their vigour and should be divided every three or four years, immediately after they bloom. This gives us the wonderful opportunity to share with friends, just as Dorothy did.

Unlike, the ‘gifts’ of invasive garden plants like Lily of the Valley or mint, the tall bearded Iris can be accepted with appreciation for the beauty and joy it will provide for years to come.

Patty Siddall and Betty Drover operate a local garden business and will share their expertise in the Trail Times every other Friday. Contact Siddall Drover Garden Services at 250-364-1005